Battled. Potential. Disappointed. Those are three words to describe the 2011/2012 Rochester Americans season and in the end what was dubbed “Sabres University” was a big let down. It was a fun season at times but it was far from a great season.
It was a miracle the team found a way to make it into the playoffs (thanks for the most part to the overtime point) but no one should accept that and be happy. If the team would have missed the playoffs the easy excuse would be that all of the call ups and injuries throughout the season had a major impact but they found a way in and they were dominated by the Toronto Marlies, a team with more talent and depth.
There were a few positives to the season. The Buffalo Sabres buying the Rochester Americans brought back long term stability to the franchise. The previous ownership group was never in a position where they were ready to move the team or end the team but they had an uphill battle and they did the right thing selling to the Sabres. The new ownership also recognized the need to rebuild the fan base which they quickly did with the cheapest season tickets in the American Hockey League and discounts on tickets for just about every game of the season. It was great to see people have excitement for Amerks hockey again.
Another positive was watching the development of Marcus Foligno, Corey Tropp and Brayden McNabb. Those players became dominant players over the course of the season and proved that they have what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. They aren’t players who just show the potential and promise, they have what it takes.
The coaching staff was also a positive, they got what they could out of the players they had. Ron Rolston talked often early in the season about guys being handed roster spots instead of earning them and that’s where you start to see the short falls of the team.
Last July the terms Sabres University and Hockey Heaven were tossed all over the place but it was more like Sabres Community College and anything but Hockey Heaven. In Hockey Heaven you picture non stop winning and excitement, those things rarely happened.
This quote from Ron Rolston in The Buffalo News sums it up:
“You have to look back on the way the guys played,” Rolston said in Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. “They sacrificed and competed for each other, and that’s a team to me. Success rides in, ‘Can you get the potential out of the players and can the players sacrifice for each other and reach their potential?’ I think this was a hockey team that was very close to their potential.
The team made great strides this season. They played for the City of Rochester. They played for the sweater they wore every game. The players knew how important winning was and making hockey exciting again in Rochester and they tried. They didn’t quit. They even found ways to win when they were short players. They just didn’t have all of the pieces needed to put together a playoff run.
It was very close to their potential but they missed some play making goal scorers who could have drawn that potential out of some of those guys who were close. There was a lot of time last summer to add an additional couple of players that would have made a huge difference but that never happened. An American Hockey League team can be built to win in a single off season, it doesn’t take years of rebuilding and drafting.
Someone reading this will think at this point, “AHL teams are there to develop players and provide players to the NHL team.” Yes, that’s true but adding a couple of guys that could really draw the potential out of the prospects would not take away from development, it’ll help development and lead to winning.
Darcy Regier knew last summer that the team needed scoring and depth at center but was late to free agency. He signed Paul Szczechura and Michael Ryan in the second week of August at a time when there was no one else left. Szczechura was still available because he was recovering from a knee injury and wouldn’t be available until a month into the season. Ryan was still available because he was injury prone, it was a bust of a signing with so many other players available prior to that.
The team lost 25 out of 76 regular season games by one goal. A couple of additional players to compliment what was here would have turned at least half of those games around if not more and things could have been different.
The that will be returning next season will need a lot of help. There aren’t any rookies who’ll replace Marcus Foligno, Brayden McNabb and Corey Tropp who will more than likely make the Sabres roster out of training camp next season.
Ted Black has already said that Darcy Regier will be returning next season and he’ll likely be watched closely. This upcoming summer will be a true test with no excuses.
Stay tuned, a lot more end of season coverage to come!